Toronto – Frankie Drake Mysteries and ACTRA Toronto member Tonya Williams were honoured at the third annual Sandi Ross Awards, presented by ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity Committee at Orchid Nightclub last night during TIFF.
Tonya Williams, an ACTRA member since 1978, was recognized for founding Reelworld Film Festival in 2001, which she continues to oversee. The festival empowers emerging Indigenous and racialized storytellers to showcase films which inspire social change. It has been instrumental in opening doors for racially diverse filmmakers and talent in the industry, providing programs and opportunities for them to share their stories. Williams has been honoured many times over for her work bringing diverse stories to diverse audiences including by Howard University’s The Legacy of Leadership Award, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Red Ribbon of Hope Award, a Positive Impact Award for her years as a positive role model in the Canadian community, the prestigious Harry Jerome Award, the 2005 ACTRA National Award of Excellence, the African Canadian Achievement Award, the Planet Africa Award for Media and Entertainment, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award in Montreal, the 2012 International Women Achievers Award, and WIFT-T’s Crystal Award, among others. As a performer, Williams earned two Emmy nominations, 13 NAACP Image Award nominations and won two for her portrayal of Dr. Olivia Winters in The Young and the Restless, who she played for 19 years. Williams has appeared in numerous other television and film productions in both the U.S. and Canada. Her production company, Wilbo Entertainment, has brought diverse stories to the screen with shows such as Gospel Jubilee and Kink in her Hair.
Said Ms. Williams, “It’s always been important to me to choose roles that reflect my race and gender positively. And it has always been important to me, not to just focus on my own success, but to help others around me reach their full potential. I am honoured to accept the Sandi Ross award. Sandi Ross was someone who did so much to advance the careers of so many racially diverse artists through ACTRA.”
Frankie Drake Mysteries, a Shaftesbury series created by Carol Hay and Michelle Ricci, was also singled out by the committee. As ACTRA Toronto Diversity Committee Co-Chairs, Samora Smallwood and Lisa Michelle Cornelius, said, “Frankie Drake Mysteries is leading by example, featuring diverse, inclusive casting and storytelling. The show is led by strong female performers and features diverse storytelling which offers glimpses into aspects of our Canadian culture we don’t often see depicted in TV and film. This progressive approach to programming has proven successful, with a second season to start airing on CBC on September 24, 2018.”
Executive Producers Christina Jennings and James Hurst were on hand to accept the honour.
“It has always been important to us as a company for our projects to be inclusive, to work with diverse, new and emerging performers, directors, and writers, and to have gender-equality in the numbers of directors on our series. Frankie Drake Mysteries is a project we are so proud of – we have produced a series that has resonated with viewers, featuring diversity in front of and behind the camera. From the talented cast to the stories we’ve been able to tell, we’ve been able to shine a light onto historical people and stories that hadn’t been told yet. We are honoured to accept this award and celebrate the legacy of Sandi Ross,” said Christina Jennings, Chairman & CEO, Shaftesbury / Executive Producer, Frankie Drake Mysteries.
ACTRA Toronto President Theresa Tova said, “We are thrilled to honour Frankie Drake Mysteries and Tonya Williams for their leadership in putting gender equality and diversity and inclusion on screen. As we said when we announced the Canadian Creative Industries Code of Conduct to prevent and respond to harassment, discrimination, bullying and violence in our industry: ‘Promoting increased gender equality and diversity is one way to break down barriers and eliminate these behaviours.'”
Live music was provided at the event by Diversity Committee Co-Chair, actor and R&B/soul singer Lisa Michelle Cornelius with guitarist Dave Stone, and by Toronto ACTRA Women’s Committee Co-Chair, actor and songstress Joanna Swan with Janet D. Whiteway.
The Sandi Ross Awards celebrate an individual and a company who incorporate diversity and inclusion in their work. Past recipients include Sinking Ship Entertainment, director Dawn Wilkinson, creator Nathalie Younglai and Hungry Eyes Media. The awards are named after the late actor Sandi Ross, the first woman and person of colour to be president of ACTRA Toronto and the founder of ACTRA Toronto’s first diverse talent directory, Into the Mainstream. The directory continues online at Diversity.ACTRA.online.ca, and is a useful tool for producers and casting directors to cast inclusively.
ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity Committee advocates on behalf of ACTRA Toronto’s self-identified physically and culturally diverse performers and calls for a more inclusive media industry.
ACTRA Toronto is the largest organization within ACTRA, representing more than 15,000 of Canada’s 23,000 professional performers working in recorded media in Canada. As an advocate for Canadian culture since 1943, ACTRA is a member-driven union that continues to secure rights and respect for the work of professional performers.